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Congress Announces CWC Meeting on Oct 16, Likely to Discuss Party President's Election

The last Congress Working Committee meeting was held nearly five months ago, and the decision to elect a new party chief has been put on hold multiple times owing to the pandemic and assembly elections in different states.

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This story, originally published at 1.15 pm October 8, 2021 with the headline ‘Congress Mulls CWC Meeting ‘Soon’, Likely to Discuss Party President’s Election’ was updated and republished at 3.16 pm on October 9, 2021, after the date of the CWC meeting was announced.

New Delhi: The Congress party has announced that it will hold a meeting of its top decision-making body, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on October 16, where the issue of electing a full-time party president could be raised. The development comes amidst the party facing the double blow of several state units facing internal turmoil and a growing chorus by a section of senior party leaders demanding that internal organisational polls be held soon.

Before the announcement of the date, people aware of developments had said the CWC meeting could take place “as early as this month” (October). Given that the issue of electing a full-time president is gaining steam, it could be raised in the meeting. Once the CWC discusses the issue and gives a green signal, the party’s central election authority (CEA) headed by veteran party leader Madhusudan Mistry will put into motion a schedule to hold the polls.

Congress’ chief spokesperson, Randeep Singh Surjewala, told PTI last week that prior to leaving for her Shimla trip, Sonia Gandhi had “already indicated that a CWC meeting shall be called very soon”. His comments came just a day after senior party leader Kapil Sibal, part of 23 leaders who are demanding an organisational overhaul, said since there “is no president” in the Congress, there is no clarity on who is taking decisions.

Also read: The Congress Was Once a Grand Old Party

At least two other party leaders aware of developments had said that a CWC meeting could take place “as early as this month” and one of them added that the issue of electing a full-time party president could be raised too.

“There is a clear indication that the CWC meeting could take place soon. It could be likely this month. It seems like, among other issues, some of the leaders could also raise the issue of election of the party president,” the second leader added.

Weeks after the drubbing in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, then party president Rahul Gandhi stepped down from the top post taking responsibility for Congress’ performance. Nearly a month later, the CWC appointed former Congress president Sonia Gandhi as the interim chief of the party.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Photo: PTI.

However, more than two years after these developments, the party is yet to get a full-time president. Its significance can be gauged from the fact that during this period, elections to eight legislative assemblies have taken place and a string of party’s young leaders have quit to join rival political parties.

The party has also battled internal troubles in states like Punjab where its sitting chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh resigned making way for Charanjit Singh Channi to occupy the top post. Days later, state unit chief Navjot Singh Sidhu too tendered his resignation from the organisational post.

Internal troubles are also being faced in states like Kerala and poll-bound Goa where leaders have quit recently. These developments have led to critics and a section of party leaders alike demanding that the election of a full-time president be held soon.

Inordinate delays 

“The groundwork was done but the second wave of COVID-19 hit and the CWC took the decision that it will wait. Otherwise, holding these elections remotely would throw up a lot of challenges. The central election authority too felt that conducting in-person elections was better,” said Krishna Byre Gowda, former Karnataka minister and member of the CEA.

“We will have to wait for the CWC to give clarity as it is their domain, and I am not aware of it. We can hold elections within 45 days of advance notice,” Gowda said when asked how soon could the election to the top post may take place.

The party had rejigged its CEA in September last year setting in motion the election process for the top post. However, the plan has been shelved ever since. In January, the CEA is known to have suggested a few dates in May. But it has been deferred owing to an assembly election schedule. After a CWC meeting in January, the party had said it will have a “new, elected” president “at any cost” by June.

However, at another meeting of the CWC in May, it was unanimously decided to postpone the election of party president until the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country had improved. Senior leaders had then estimated that it could take another two or three months. Five months have passed since the last CWC meeting took place.

Also read: Two Years Since Leadership Crisis, Congress’s Bigger Trouble Continues To Be From State Units

To be sure, the overall organisational elections in Congress were last held in 2017 when Rahul Gandhi took over the top post. According to the party’s amended constitution, the term of the president is of five years. So, anyone who takes over right now will only have a year of tenure left. The election takes place through voting by All India Congress Committee (AICC) members consisting of a section of members from all the state units of the party.

“There have been repeated demands by some leaders that the election to the CWC should also take place to assist the new party president. Now, it is yet to be seen if that would happen alongside or not. However, last year a number of changes in the senior leadership were put in place, therefore, an election seems unlikely,” another senior party leader said requesting anonymity.

In September last year, Sonia Gandhi oversaw a major organisational overhaul. The party dropped some of its veteran leaders from its list of party general secretaries, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, former leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha. The CWC too was rejigged then with at least two general secretaries being dropped. Then, former finance minister P.Chidambaram, Surjewala, Jitendra Singh and Tariq Anwar were inducted into CWC.

Any top leadership change in the party would be significant at this stage given that seven states are going to polls next year. This includes the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, hill states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh as well as Punjab, Goa and Manipur. Except for Congress-ruled Punjab, Bharatiya Janata Party is in power in all other six states. In at least four of these states, the two parties are likely to be in a direct contest.

Anuja is an independent journalist based in New Delhi who reports on the intersection of policy and politics. She can be reached at @just_anuja

This story, originally published at 1.15 pm October 8, 2021 with the headline ‘Congress Mulls CWC Meeting ‘Soon’, Likely to Discuss Party President’s Election’ was updated and republished at 3.16 pm on October 9, 2021, after the date of the CWC meeting was announced.